What is AdRank? And How to Build an Optimized Campaign for It

what is ad rank and how to optimize it

GA4 is the latest iteration of Google Analytics.

GA4 is a whole new ball game. The biggest difference is that the entire ecosystem is event-based. So how do you set everything up? Like most things, there are several ways you can do it, but I’m only going to walk you through the preferred method for most people. For this demo, I’m going to assume that you are working with a website (vs. an App) and are using Google Tag Manager to manage your existing tags.

What is Ad Rank?

Ad Rank is a score that determines whether or not you will win an auction in Google Ads. It’s a combination of your bid and other factors of quality. 

How Ad Rank Works

Google uses a formula made up of five (5) factors to determine who wins any given paid search auction and how much they pay. It’s called Ad Rank.

The five (5) factors are:

  1. Max CPC (bid)
  2. Quality Score
  3. Ad Extensions (expected impact)
  4. Context of Query (users’ location, device, time of search, type of search, etc..)
  5. Ad Rank Threshold (is your ad good enough for position #1(or at all)?) 

The first three factors have been around for years. Your bid was adjusted by your Quality Score. And Ad Extensions would boost your Ad Rank a little. The last two factors in the list are relatively new. Context of Query (#4) is simple and makes a lot of sense—take your base Ad Rank score and adjust based on real-time, user-specific factors, such as location or the user’s device. The last factor, Ad Rank Threshold, is a bit weird in my opinion when framed as an Ad Rank factor. It seems less of a component of your AdRank than just a required threshold of any given auction. All you need to remember about it is that it keeps poor quality ads from winning auctions even when their AdRank would normally win an auction. For example: you’re the only advertiser bidding, but your ads are terrible.

Let’s look at the first 4 in more detail.

ad extensions ads
ad extensions ads

Ad Extensions
Think of Ad Extensions like the structured data Google adds to your organic results. The idea is the same with organic as it is with paid—these added extensions make the search result more useful and relevant, which in turn improves performance. Not only do they make ads perform better, but Google rewards you for using them by increasing your Ad Rank. These extensions include things like SitelinksCalloutsCall ExtensionsLocation Extensionsetc..

Max CPC (bid)
Max CPC. This is what you’re willing to pay for a click. That’s it. You optimize this by deciding how you’ll adjust bids for any given auction. Google offers a variety of “Smart Bidding” strategies you can implement or you can manage this manually. Just remember, it’s the one factor that does not signal any degree of quality.

Context of Query
This one is tricky to optimize for because its purpose is to adjust your score based on the specific needs of the user at the time of the auction. There are optimizations you can make, but, really, this factor is simply way for Google to adjust ads for a specific user.

Quality Score
Now it gets interesting. Let’s say my Max CPC (bid) is $1 and my competitor’s Max CPC is $0.90. In a simple auction, I’d win, but in this case, my ads and my landing pages are terrible, so my Quality Score is low. We’ll say it’s a “3” (three). My competitor has great ads that do well and great landing pages. Her score is a “10” (ten). Because of her high Quality Score, her $0.90 bid beats my $1.00 bid. It’s Google’s way of providing a better user experience and financially rewarding advertisers for providing said experiences.

quality score ads
quality score ads

So, what is Quality Score (QS)?
Your Quality Score is a combination of three things:

  1. Landing Page Experience
  2. Ad Relevance
  3. Expected Click Through Rate

Something important to note: Quality Score is attributed to any given KEYWORD. Your ads, Ad Groups, Campaigns, Landing Pages, Account, etc.. don’t have Quality Scores. The score is a rating for your ads, landing pages and past performance in relation to that specific keyword. 

  • Landing Page Experience: In terms of traditional SEO, this is essentially a measure of how well your page would rank for this keyword organically. What Google is looking for here is a landing page that is fast (especially on mobile), trustworthy, and consistent with the ad.
  • Ad Relevance: How well does your ad match all of the possible queries that your keyword might trigger?
  • Expected Click Through Rate: This is a measure of how well Google assumes your keywords / ads / landing pages will perform. Largely, this factor is based on historical performance and non-keyword aspects of your ads.
improving ad rank ads
improving ad rank ads

How to Build a Campaign Optimized for Ad Rank

Start with SEO. 

Start with fast, high-quality landing pages that are optimized for the campaigns you’re creating. 

Landing Page Experience
The most important part of Ad Rank is your Quality Score. And the most important part of Quality Score is your Landing Page Experience. It’s the foundation of everything. Your Landing Page is the most immoveable lever in this process. It’s also the source of almost all the information you need for a high Ad Rank. 

You probably already have pages that are relevant for the keywords you’re targeting, so don’t create new pages. Use the existing pages that: 

  1. Are optimized for the keywords you’re targeting
  2. Have performance history
  3. Have strong & relevant content
  4. Have optimized title tags & metas
  5. Are fast
  6. Don’t look like spammy landing pages 

*NOTE: If you do create landing pages, be sure to set them to no-index. You don’t want those pages being indexed and confusing search engines as to which pages are the most relevant for any given keyword.

If you don’t have a page already built for the campaign you want to run, I’d recommend creating a new page and adding it to your site in a relevant way that fits within your site structure and looks & works like your other pages. If your campaign is relevant to your site’s content, that shouldn’t be a problem. 

In the tests I’ve run comparing dedicated landing pages to existing site pages, two things almost always happen: 

First, Quality Score is lower for dedicated landing pages. 

Second, CPCs are higher for the dedicated landing pages.  

For example: a campaign I ran recently spent 16% more on its clicks from the dedicated landing page and the results were statistically significant. I built a standalone landing page to test against my existing page and created an experiment in Google Ads. The only difference was the landing page. When the landing page experience is better, your Quality Score goes up. When your Quality Score goes up, your Ad Rank goes up. When your Ad Rank goes up, you win auctions with lower bids. 

Let’s walk through an ACTUAL process of building a campaign. (NOTE: this just one way to do it. It won’t work for every campaign)


The easiest way to build a campaign is with Ads Editor. All we want to do here is create a Campaign and an AdGroup/s we can add keywords to later.

Open Ads Editor. Click “Add Campaign.” Give it a name. Give it a budget of anything (I use $1 as a default until I’m ready to launch). 

ads editor create campaign
ads editor create campaign

Then while you have your new campaign selected, select Ad Groups from the window in the lower left side of the screen.

ads editor select ad groups
ads editor select ad groups

Click “Add Ad Group.” Name your Ad Group. Set a max CPC (I use $0.01). Click “Post” in the top right side of the screen.

ads editor create ad group
ads editor create ad group

Determine your landing pages

You did this in the lengthy section above. I’m going to be using: 

https://brooklynblackpipe.com/floating-shelves/rustic-reclaimed-wood-floating-shelves/ as our example. (Disclaimer: this is an actual e-commerce store I’m currently working on). 

Build your Ad Groups

  • Go to Search Console.
  • Select the “Performance” tab on the left.
  • Below the chart, select the “Pages” tab.
  • Find your landing page and select it.
search console landing page
search console landing page
  • Now select the “Queries” tab.
  • These are the keywords that are driving traffic to your landing page. (You can download them by clicking the arrow pointing down in the top-right of the report)
  • Save those keywords somewhere and hop over to Google Ads.
search console query
search console query
  • Click the “Tools & Settings” button at the top.
  • Select Keyword Planner (on the far left).
select keyword planner
select keyword planner
  • Select “Discover New Keywords”
discover new keywords
discover new keywords
  • Select the “Start with a Website” tab
start with website
start with website
  • Enter your landing page and click the “Use only this page” radio button
  • The default setting is to get results for the US as a whole. If you only care about a city/region, click the word “United States” and choose your target area.
  • Hit “Get Results”
  • Ok, so now you need to make some decisions. Based on the keywords you got from Search Console, your campaign goals, your budget and other miscellaneous factors, select the keywords on the screen you want in your AdGroup. If a keyword is high on your Search Console list and high in Keyword Planner, it’s probably good to select it. If your budget is small, start with 5-8 closely related keywords. If money ain’t a thing, start with up to 40 (you’ll start removing garbage keywords right away and get this AdGroup to under 20).
select keywords
select keywords

Once you have your list, select the “Plan” button, then the “Existing campaign” text.

existing plan
existing plan

Select your campaign and your AdGroup (you created earlier in Ads Editor). You’ll likely adjust your matching settings later, so it doesn’t really matter, but choose “exact” or “broad” and hit “Add Keywords.”

select ad group
select ad group
add keywords 1
add keywords 1
  • Exit Keyword planner once you fill your AdGroups with keywords
  • Consider manually adding selected keywords you found in Search Console, but weren’t in Keyword Planner, after you finish with Keyword Planner. 

Why This Works
Using Keyword Planner filtered to your landing page gives you a list of keywords that Google is telling you are relevant to that page. And Search Console does the same thing indirectly by giving you queries that drove organic traffic to that page. There’s very little guessing here. You have a list of keywords for a specific landing page that you can say with a high degree of certainty will be relevant to your landing page. Of course, your specific campaign will dictate how much you can use this exact process. If I’m a plumber, I will have a page that will work and the keywords I get in this process will work, 100%. Little, to no, adjustment needed. 

Speed and SEO Best Practices
Your Landing Page experience is also a measure of all the other quality signals Google looks for—speed/performance, trustworthiness, accessibility and all the other basic SEO factors used to rank your page organically. 

So, here’s what you do:

  • Go to your landing page and right-click anywhere. Then hit “Inspect”
  • Now select the “Audits” tab (your tray will open on the right if default)
  • Select all the boxes on the right and set the device to “Mobile”
  • Run the report
lighthouse audit
lighthouse audit

This is called a Lighthouse report. It’s Google’s own tool to help assess the basic quality of a page. It’s by no means the only tool to determine the quality of a page, but it’s an excellent place to start because it will give you very specific and actionable things you can do to make your page better and send higher quality signals to Google. The SEO, Best Practices and Accessibility tabs are all pretty simple to address and get high scores for (Note: A high score is not the goal. The goal is to have a high quality landing page). The page I’m using needs work, but not a lot.

Now for the hard part—Performance. Speed is absolutely a factor in how Google ranks your pages—both organically and in paid. You need your page to be fast and mobile friendly. Don’t use the suggestions in the Lighthouse tool as a to-do list. That simply won’t work. Many of the errors you’ll see are about render-blocking javascript that is crucial to most webpages, so it’s useless info. Luckily, there are lots of things we can do to improve performance without directly addressing the errors list. Until I have time to write a post specific to this issue, use tools like GTMetrix.com to see where and why your site is loading slow and try to address the issues you can. If you’re using WordPress, disable and remove unused plugins. Then consider a plugin called Asset Cleanup to selective disable specific js and css files on individual pages (post coming soon). And no matter what, optimize your images and use a CDN. How you make your site faster will depend on your site, skill level and resources, but the headline here is to improve performance with the aim of improving your “Landing Page Experience.”

gt metrix landing page
gt metrix landing page

Another important performance opportunity you can take advantage of is AMP. It makes your pages faster on mobile, which is often the majority of traffic for many advertisers, but it also gains certain benefits from Google. Google offers to serve cached copies of your AMP landing pages.

Ad Relevance 
Let’s write some good ads. The first ad is easy. Here’s what you do:

  • Search for your landing page using your primary keyword. Maybe use your brand name too if that page doesn’t rank well enough to show up on the first page.
  • Look at the result (SERP) Google shows you. It might be your Page Title as the headline and the meta you wrote as the description. Or maybe Google changed it to something it thinks is better. Whatever you see there, copy it. Thats your first ad (mostly). Google is saying “this is the best headline/description we can come up with based on your page and what you provided in the title tag and meta.” 
  • Then fill in the extra headline/description fields with information you think makes sense and move on to the next ad.
  • I’m not going to get into the weeds on writing ads, but you want ads that match your keywords and content from your landing page. It’s ok to just copy content from your page and use that for your headlines/descriptions. Remember, you want your ads to match what a user will see when they get to your page. Saying one thing in your ad and saying something completely different on your landing page isn’t great.

The reason we write our ads AFTER we optimize our landing pages is because it’s important that our copy is a strong match of our Landing Page (which acts as a semi-constant). If we use specific language in our Page Title, it’s probably not a bad idea to use that same exact language in your ad copy. If you make a few major points in your copy, use those same points in your ads. And your ad descriptions can draw from other copy in your body. Google sees that the ad matches what’s on the landing page and is super relevant to the keyword you’re targeting and says, “you know what? This ad seems to be relevant to the keyword searched for and the landing page page it’s pointing to. Let’s give it a score of 10 for Ad Relevance.”

Now create 3-5 more ads for each ad group using the same tactic of drawing on your landing page for content to use in your ad.

Run your ads, keep the winners and remove/edit the losers. In general, I’ll only edit/remove ads that perform worse than all the rest. Leave your top performing ad alone. If one of your keywords scores low on Ad Relevance, create a new ad with that keyword at the front of Headline 1. Creating ads is a never ending process, but now that you have proper landing pages and a strategy for creating your ads, you’ll start to see your Quality Score increase.

Expected CTR
According to Google, Expected CTR is essentially the same exact thing as Ad Relevance. They both measure the strength of your ads. In both cases, matching your keyword to your Ad is your primary lever.

After you optimize for Ad Relevance, you’ve already done much of what you can do for Expected CTR. That said, there are some extra things we can do:

  • Try different call-to-actions (CTAs).. Buy Now vs Shop Now.. Call Now vs Contact Us..
  • Highlight things that make you special.. Extended warranty.. Free Shipping..
  • Use dynamic content in your ads.. Countdowns.. Dynamic Keyword Insertion.. Dynamic Location Insertion.. (article coming soon) 

A note on Expected Click Through Rate: this factor is largely based on historical performance, so start slow. You’re not going to spend efficiently right away. You’re starting off with zero history, so you won’t even have a score for days or weeks. The last thing you should do is just start dumping money into keywords that have a low Expected CTR. Let this score increase before you spend heavy if at all possible. 

Lastly, add as many extensions as you can that make sense. I recommend SitelinksCalloutsCall Extensions and Location Extensions to start. Google will choose up to 4 of the most relevant extensions for any given search and use them in the ad. This is not technically part of Expected CTR, but anything that affects performance is going to have an impact on this score.

Run your Campaign, Test and Optimize
Now take a step back. Your landing pages are set. Your Ad Groups are in good shape. And your Ads have very well defined constraints for what will make them work.

The heavy lifting is done. Now you can focus on making your ads better, refining your AdGroups and setting your bid strategy without wasting a ton of time and money.

© 2023 Nic Pederson. Built with Care